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Category: What I believe

Health Care Reform Bill

[ 2 ] March 25, 2010

Like many of us I have strong political, social, and religious opinions.  These rise from how I think, how I feel, and what I have learned in my life, and hopefully opinions that reflect my faith as a Christian and pastor.  I would, of course, have strong opinions about the health care reform bill recently passed and the process that led to it being signed into law.

Now let me first offer a quote from Paul Brown, a Duke University Graduate school student:
“Sisters and brothers, our unity is grounded in Christ—not in the details of health care reform,  as a Church that includes both Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush as members, we are free to disagree on various social issues, but remain united in one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.”

What Connects the Church is our relationship with Jesus Christ and our commitment to serve Him, uniquely at first Methodist; “Making disciples of Jesus Christ, who will love God, love others, and serve the world!”   Which ever side of this recent process each of us may light on, and the few that might wander somewhere in the middle, nothing changes when it comes to the mission of the Church and nothing changes when it comes to our responsibility to love God, live His way, and serve Him in the world.  I pray that we always reflect Jesus Christ in grace, understanding, and even forgiveness (both receiving and giving).

  • Personally, I think that people who can take care of themselves should.  Self-respect and personal responsibility is a Christian virtue.  A person, family, and even a nation are strengthened when this virtue is highlighted and celebrated.
  • Secondly, I think a Christian society should somehow care for the poor and the disadvantaged, the elderly and the children. A society that neglects the least, the last, and the lost in their midst, especially in a time of affluence has abandoned a Christian virtue that is as core as Jesus’ basic teaching.
  • Thirdly, I don’t believe that political process are the way the Church has been challenged by biblical faith to change the world.  We change the world by making courageous, compassionate, faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

I also think, because of the Christian underpinnings of America, that these virtues are core to what America is about, even to what it is to be an American, values that have set this nation apart since its inception, and even in our most difficult times won out, such as overcoming the depression without chaos unlike many other nations, and addressing Civil Rights clearly and decisively even though belatedly. Programs of Social Security and Medicare have long provided help for the elderly during the seasons many could no longer care for themselves.  When we add, as I think, that the United Methodist Church is the most American of churches, this idea of caring for the least, the last, and the lost, and yet also living in courage, self-respect, and personal responsibly (called personal holiness) define who we are.

The United Methodist Church itself has taken no denominational stand on this particular health bill. Only General Conference can speak for the denomination. Our last conference was held before even the beginnings of this Bill.

But one of our Boards, The Board of Church and Society (we have boards for everything) has spoken for the Bill.  This board can operate independently as many of our local Churches do, which it has done in this case.

The United Methodist Church did go on record through our General Conference in Fort Worth, (a body of representatives from every Conference and State who meet every 4 years) as saying, “We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care!”  But there is no detailed description of what this might look like though reasons that all Americans should have access to affordable health care are given in abundance.  This Methodist representative body votes in a similar fashion as does the Nations representative body.  I sometimes agree and sometimes I don’t.

To give an illustration about differing opinions of Methodist Christians:  there are 44 Methodists in the House of Representatives, 18, all Democrats, voted for the Bill; 26, Democrats and Republicans voted against the Bill.  My guess is that this proportion represents the nation’s division and probably the members of most national Church bodies.

Mike Ross, a United Methodist congressman  who voted against the bill said, “There are parts of the bill that are good, including much needed health insurance reforms and making health insurance affordable for the uninsured, on the other hand, many parts of the bill cause me great concern, like telling people they must buy health insurance or be fined, cutting Medicare by more than a half-trillion dollars, increasing taxes and forcing businesses to provide health insurance to their employees.”

Laura Richardson a  United Methodist Congresswoman from California voted for the legislation saying, “While this legislation does not include an comprehensive full public option, as the House of Representatives preferred, it is a giant step forward in beginning the reform of our nations current neglectful health system.”

Rep. Marion Berry from Arkansas said, “health care reform must be deficit—neutral and must be fully paid for by squeezing out more savings from the pharmaceutical manufacturers and private insurance industry instead of cramming down hospitals and other providers and taxing Americans!”

Some of my thoughts:
I am glad we are talking about Health Care Reform.  I have been a part of the journey of many families with health care needs in our Church who found themselves in dire straights when it came to health emergencies, sometimes with no place to turn, and often in that situation through no fault of their own. Something had to eventually give in the spiraling cost of health care and insurance and access. In our own Central Texas Conference clergy are aware we have an impending crisis ahead because of the rising cost of health insurance.

I think the US health care system is amazing, again having journeyed with other families and my own, our Physicians, hospitals, and medical staffs are compassionate, competent, and second to none. We live in a country that cares about the hurts of others and our medical people and providers are representative of that.

I am unhappy about the abortion language, or lack of abortion language in the Bill.  The bill was passed without this being processed through a legislative body absolutely clarifying that Federal Money, our money, will not be used for abortions.

I, like many, are disappointed (whoever is to blame) that this bill was not bipartisan, has become divisive, and polarized the American people as well as our Government representatives. Anger and mistrust has ensued that can only scuttle the very care for the least, the last, and the lost that everyone on both sides wants.  It is the only major bill of its kind in history, including Medicare, social security, and the civil rights bill that was not bipartisan.
I am disappointed in the speed this bill was pushed through the system.  I am chair of a task force that is redesigning thee simple structure of our Central Texas Methodist Conference.  This will take at least two years.  Our Church just completed simple strategic planning that took 3 years.  How can a health care bill of this Nation Changing and people impacting magnitude be put together, examined, approved, and put into play in what is absolutely an unreasonable amount of time. No one seems to be sure how it is going to impact all of us.
There has not been sufficient study of the economic ramifications of this bill, ramifications on the health care industry, physicians and medical providers, businesses, Churches, families, the tax payer, the nation itself, and the future of the next generation.  This seismic shift in health care is too important to have myriads of uncertainties that may have unintended consequences.

I am disappointed with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.  There was no effort put into representing the diverse views of all United Methodist Churches, Methodist pastors, and members of the Methodist family.  If the Board has supported the idea of access to health care for the least, the last, and the lost , that is to be lauded, but to support this particular bill from beginning to end without understanding the ramifications, this is unacceptable to me, as has been expressed by many Methodist Pastors, congressmen, and Methodists.

Final Thoughts:
In America we have the privilege of opinion, to speak our thoughts, to vote for those who represent us, to change our minds, to struggle together for the good of our country, the good of our neighbor, the good of our family, and the hurting of our world. We are a democracy. Thank you God!

In the Church we have the privilege of “Making disciples of Jesus Christ, who will love God, love others, and serve the world!”  This Health Care Bill at its very worst might raise our taxes and leave many of us entering a changed health care world that leaves us less choices and a country where Government has intruded into unprecedented areas, but at its very best might provide excellent health care for a child with a single mother, a person disabled through the onset of a debilitating disease, a family with an unemployed father, or anyone who has been limited from the best health care system in the world through no fault of their own.

Believing

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008

I think Doctrines are an important part of faith, even though following Jesus Christ in love and faith is where the rubber meets the road, what we believe forms that life and calls us continually to what be believe is true. The world we live in often avoids the idea of absolute truth, and yet the very idea that God is; is an absolute truth.  Our beliefs don’t form or define God, but the God we believe in does form and define us.

About God
God is the Creator and Ruler of the universe. He exists eternally in three personalities: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is both holy and loving.  God is.  God is not created, God is the creator.

About Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ is the unique Son of God. He lived a sinless human life and died on the cross to atone for our sins. He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven and will return again to earth. He was born of a virgin, raised from the dead, and calls us to follow Him.

About the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is God present with us, calls us to God, reminds us that God loves, and empowers us to live the Christian life.

About the Bible
The Bible is God’s word, inspired by God, and all things necessary for salvation and to live the Christian life in a moral and loving way are found in its pages.  All Christian doctrine and beliefs must be support in the only inspired book.  The Bible is God speaking to all who will hear, historically, contextually, and directly.

About Human Beings
People are made in the spiritual image of God – we are rational and moral beings who have been given free will.  We can choose God, or we can reject God.  We can choose to love or choose to hate. People are often separated by God because of sin, lives that miss the target created by God for them.  Christ has come to forgive that sin and restore all who believe to a relationship with God.

About Being Made Right with God
Becoming right with God and having our relationship with God restored is what the Bible calls salvation. Salvation is God’s free gift to us. We can never earn it or achieve it by self-improvement or good works. We accept God’s gift of a new life when we turn from our self-directed life and accept Jesus as our Savior. The new life that God gives us is an abundant life in this world and eternal life in the world to come.  “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

About The Kind of Life We Are Called To Live
God glorifies Himself when He saves us, but we glorify God by our good works. We are promised abundant life, expected to live an abundant life, offered a life of love, purpose, meaning, and challenged to life as followers of Christ, allowing the Holy Spirit and Biblical teaching to teach us how to live a “Christ centered life” justification by faith; the work that God does for us, sanctification; the lifelong work that God does in us.

“In essential beliefs we have unity, in non-essential beliefs we have liberty, and in all beliefs we have charity.” ?- John Wesley, founder to the Methodist movement

Infant Baptism

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008

Why do Methodist’s Baptize infants and small children?

Acts chapter 16: verses 22-34 is a good place to begin in the Bible to understand why we baptize infants as well as adults.  Look especially at verse 30 and 31 and the word “household” and then verse 33 and the word “household” again.

It appears in this Biblical story that often entire families left the pagan/roman world and became followers of Christ, often as the parents made the decision to accept Christ.  When this happened the act of baptism was the visible act of obedience and God’s grace that brought these families into the life of the Church, though faith in Christ is the door of God’s gift of Salvation.  This is called “justification by faith.”

We are not positive that infants were baptized the first couple hundred years of the history of the Church, the Bible is not absolutely clear on this.  But we do know that the last 1,700 year history of the Church infants have been baptized and brought intro the life of the Church through families that have chosen Christ and the Christian way.  In the last couple of hundred years there have been some churches that have rejected infant baptism and some that have held on to the tradition as the United Methodist Church has.

If adult baptism is believer’s baptism, meaning someone is converted from sin, turns to Christ and responds to that conversion by being baptized.  Then infant Baptism is a Christian family bringing their child into the Church and the Christian adventure through the act of God’s grace that allows a child, who is unable to profess faith, to participate in the wonderful symbol of Baptism and the grace of God made available as part of the sacrament.  The idea is that the child never knows any other way but the way of Christ.

Illustration
Billy Graham was converted at a youth for Christ rally, later was baptized, and the rest is history.  Reverend Graham speaks of his own Christianity and refers to another who was a better Christian than he, Ruth Bell Graham (who recently died) his wife.   Ruth was always a Presbyterian, never joined the Baptist Church, was baptized as an infant, served with her missionary parents in China, yet walked with Billy Graham through 60 years of ministry.  ?She would say she never knew any other way but the way of Christ.  In the early days of the Church as recorded in the Book of Acts, the only way to enter the Church was through Baptism.  The Church had yet to become a body that raised its children from scratch, teaching them the way of Christ from small childhood, and bringing them into the life of the Church at birth, its care, its teaching, God’s grace, and the way of Christ. With faith in Christ being the way to heaven and baptism being the door to the Church, it made sense that the Jesus who said. “Let the children come unto me, and do not hinder them” would accept infants into the life of the church through the sacrament He ordained, baptism.

As a pastor who has baptized hundreds of adults and children, I am convinced God is pleased when an adult is converted and then proclaims that conversion through baptism, becoming a part of Christ’s Church.  I am also convinced that when that converted Christian later has a child, and brings that infant to the same pastor for Baptism as a continuation of their faith commitment and love for God and that child, that God is equally pleased.

Premarital Sex

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008

We live in a sexually obsessed world.  Images are presented thousands of times a day in movies, television, magazines, etc., that proclaim sexuality without morality.  Instead of being the holy sacred moment between husband and wife that God intended for it to be it has become equated with eating a cheeseburger. There is little difference for some who present this issue. This is one value that the Bible is concrete and absolutely clear in the moral code it teaches.  1 Thessalonians was a Biblical letter written to one of the early Churches in Greece.  In that culture sexual morality was an illusive thing and sex outside of marriage was a normal way of life.  When the Church began there they caught on quickly to belief in Christ, loving your neighbor, and worshiping God.  But the culture was so pervasively immoral that they had a difficult time dealing with the sexual morality issue. Paul writes, “abstain from sexual immorality!”  This teaching is in almost all of the epistles and an accepted truth of Christ.  We add to this the 10 commandments where it records, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”  This teaching is consistent and prevalent in Scripture, that a society, Church, family is to be built upon faithfulness in marriage and abstinence when single.

What does the United Methodist Book of Discipline say?
“Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are only clearly affirmed in the marriage bond.”  This is under the Disciplinary call, “Faithfulness in marriage, celibacy in singleness!”

In the First United Methodist Church of Mansfield we teach that sex is a gift of God that helps create loving relationships from which marriage and family extend.  We teach that sexual relations are only appropriate within the institution of marriage.  There are many reasons for this; sexually transmitted diseases, unwed mothers, the degradation of the gift of sex  (sex being a God given gift), the importance of sex as a foundation for marriage and family, and following the original God created design for allowing humanity to participate in creation through the birth of wanted children.  But the most important tenant is that it is a clear teaching of the Bible, which is our guide for Christian practice and relationships.  We teach abstinence for young people, the unmarried, single, as well as faithfulness in marriage.  But we love all people in the grace of a loving God who always calls us to a life of faith, love, and Christian values.

Divorce

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008

The divorce rate still hovers around 50% in most of the nation.  Millions of children now grow up in broken homes.  Courts are full of divorce and custody cases.  Counselor’s offices are full of couples dealing with the issue. The Church is in full stride seeking to serve those in these difficult moments of life as well as becoming more and more committed to celebrating and saving marriage.  Divorce is every day.

What does the Bible say?

Jesus condemned the easy divorce of His day.
Jesus allowed for divorce, but only in rare case.
Jesus offered grace to those damaged by broken relationships.

The Bible has no concrete rules that cover marriage and divorce in every case.  It does celebrate the institution of marriage and the family.  It does celebrate love in marriage. It does celebrate the unique relationship of service and love that is in marriage.  It does offer grace for those who experience the tragedies of life, including divorce.  It does call for faithfulness in marriage and yet offers new beginnings for those who have been hurt by the trauma of divorce, new beginnings made possible by God’s grace.

What does the United Methodist Book of Discipline say?
“We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant…when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness…The welfare of each child is the most important consideration…divorce does not preclude a new marriage…we encourage an intentional commitment of the Church…to minister compassionately to those in the process of divorce, as well as members of divorced and remarried families…God’s grace is available to all.

There is little doubt that the greatest crisis of the Church is not money, or a lack of faith, but divorce.  Nothing has created more pain, angst, and division in the life of the Church than the fallout of divorce.  This pain is felt by the couple, the children, the Church, and even God himself.  But we also recognize that God’s grace is always sufficient and available, for reconciliation for some, and healing for others, and a new marriage for others still.  The First United Methodist Church is dedicated to serving all people.  Our prayer is that divorce never happens, that prayer, faith, counseling, and compelling love wins in every marriage and couples grow from year to year in a compassionate relationship that every child grows up with their family’s intake, loving and faithful.  But when divorce happens, and sometimes it must, we work to bless children as they struggle with brokenness and individuals as they seek for recovery and a new, different and a Jesus promised abundant life.  The Church is always about grace.

Euthanasia

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008

Dr. Kevorkian may the name most often connected to assisted suicide, having spent some time in prison convicted of manslaughter.  He had been on a mission for years promoting that humane death is a gift and a right.  Today many states debate this and some have already allowed it with many conditions.  It is already legal in some countries of our world.

The Bible clearly teaches that human life is sacred.  After all we are “created in God’s own image!”  God’s breath (spirit) of life is in us.  Life is God’s to give and God’s to take and must be considered of ultimate value. In this respect it must never be only about the quality of life, or the length of life, but of life itself.  Life alone is of value.  The Bible states, “I walk before the Lord in the land of the living,” “I kept my faith, even when I said I am greatly afflicted,” “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His holy ones.”
These Biblical ideas tell us that we are creations of God with our origin in the heart of God, with our meaning, past and present, eternally founded in God who created us.  The Bible is clear.  It is not about quality of life, the usefulness of life, or a pain free life, or the length of life.  It is always about life itself described as such by the God who gives it to us and proclaims its value in the creation “It is good” and not in the circumstances.  Since human life extends from the creator God, then any human life is of equal value.

What does the United Methodist Book of Discipline say?
“The Church does not endorse the enlistment of medical providers who are charged to cure and to care; to assist people in the taking of their own lives…We believe that suicide is not the way human life should end.”

In the United Methodist Church we are against euthanasia in any circumstances for any reason, whether the party involved can decide for themselves, or it is decided for them.

There are few slopes as slippery as this one.  When the value of life is decided by quality or lack of quality, and ended on that basis, then we find ourselves in a relative area where life can be taken for reasons decided by a changing and evolving culture. The danger is obvious.  In the First United Methodist Church of Mansfield we teach the value of life itself.  This is not an idea founded in relativity, but in God our creator and in God’s book the Bible.    The value of life is not based upon quality, purpose, length, or usefulness.  It is based upon the sacredness of life itself as created by God.  Science, philosophy, nor government should decide when life should end.  This should be decided by the giver of life, God.  But this does not negate the sensitivity of a family who has a loved one on life support and the time a decision must come about removing the life support or enacting a Do Not Resuscitate order.  This is a time that often comes and we must each surround with love, faith, and prayer as we enter these difficult seasons.

Abortion

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008

Roe vs. Wade, pro life, pro choice, pro abortion, anti abortion, reproductive choice, etc.  all these terms are known by most Americans.  Few things polarize groups more than this issue.  Is abortion a right, a choice, or is it wrong.

The entire Bible is about God and the sacredness of the life God created.  Life belongs to God, begins with God, and ends with God, and the ending of innocent life is not to be taken into the hands of humanity though through God’s great grace we have been given the ability to begin life.  Matthew 16:26 tells us that “whoever wishes to save their life shall lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake shall find it.”  God and only God is the author of life.  In our society today we often look for easy and simple solutions to difficult problems, even an unwanted pregnancy, instead of what is right, even if that right might call for personal sacrifice.  Right almost always calls for personal sacrifice as does Christian Discipleship.  It is in the giving of ones life that we find real life.  In His mother’s womb, John the Baptist leaped for joy when he came into the presence of Mary and the unborn Jesus.  Life begins at conception.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline states
“We believe in the sanctity of unborn human life…abortion is not a solution for birth control or gender selection…after prayerful consideration with pastor and doctor, it is the woman’s choice concerning abortion but only in regard to health issues, rape, incest, or if the life of the mother is at stake.”

Any other use of abortion is unacceptable.

The First United Methodist Church of Mansfield is dedicated to serving all people, those who have had abortions, those who have not, and those considering abortion.  The foundation of our Church is always God’s grace.  But we are committed to celebrating the sanctity of all human life.  Therefore abortion is an extremely serious issue.  The response to this teaching is abstinence as the birth control of choice for Christians; “faithfulness in marriage, celibacy in singleness!” is the teaching of the Methodist Church.  Abstinence is seen as a gift and not a challenge for the unmarried.  We respond with prayer, understanding, and love for the mother in a difficult place where abortion might appear to be a solution.  We support the teaching that abortion is a mother’s choice, but only in cases of rape, incest, or health issues, but only after every other venue has been explored with the help of support people, pastor, prayer, and doctor.

Homosexuality

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008

Politics, media, Churches, schools, America is talking about homosexuality.  Society and culture is hard at work seeking to integrate, mainstream, and make homosexual behavior acceptable and moral.  Others walk around holding signs assigning all those who commit homosexual acts immediately to hell.

This issue is becoming the lighting rod issue for the Church of today.  Is homosexuality genetic?  Is it acceptable for Christian behavior?  Should the Church approve of it?  Should homosexual ministers be ordained?  Denominations have split over this issue. Churches have split.  People have left going in different directions, some toward Churches who approve and some toward Churches that disapprove. The culture is in great stress because of this issue

First, in my way of thinking, it is not about homosexuality as orientation, but behavior as moral or immoral.  The Bible proclaims a clear, consistent, moral value, “any sexual relationship outside of marriage between a man and a woman is inappropriate!”  Homosexual behavior is an act that goes against Biblical teaching.  1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Romans 1:24, 27, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6, Deuteronomy 5:18, and Luke 18:20.  Sexual morality is one of the clearest distinctions that direct Christian behavior.  Humanity therefore is not divided by sexual orientation, but is divided by the moral codes we live by.  The moral code of scripture is clear, sexual purity within and outside of marriage is a challenge to be lived.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline states
“Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth…We do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching…we commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons….Ministers are not to perform same sex ceremonies in or outside of our Churches…Those who practice homosexuality cannot be ordained in the United Methodist Church…In society we are committed to equal rights for all persons.”

These words from our Churches policy book, approved by General Conference a Church wide event held every four years make it clear what our stand on homosexuality is about.  We serve all people regardless of orientation but do not affirm homosexual behavior.

The First United Methodist Church of Mansfield is dedicated to celebrating the Biblical truths, upholding The Book of Discipline’s guidelines, and loving and serving all people.  In a world where media, entertainment, and politics decide the morals of culture, we are determined to be directed by the Biblical mandates of right and wrong, good and bad.  We are committed to teaching these moral truths as consistently as possible.  We are committed to loving all people.  We believe in equal rights and justice for all in our society regardless of sexual orientation.  Homosexual persons are welcomed and loved in our Church, as are all people, though we do not approve of homosexual practices or any sexual relationships outside of marriage between a man and a woman.  Those who live the homosexual lifestyle are welcome in our Church as are many others who choose to live a lifestyle outside the bounds of Biblical moral teaching.